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A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the…

A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation

by Catherine Allgor

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This was a well-documented, well-researched book. I did not actually finish the book as it was a book club selection and I was on a deadline. I found that PBS has a documentary based on this book and it is available through NetFilx, so I watched the movie in case I did not get the book finished before our discussion. After watching the movie I lost my motivation to finish the book.

I enjoyed learning about Dolley and the influence she had on the 'office' of first lady. It was interesting to see that politics has not changed much in 200 years, with partisanship being just as extreme in the early 1800s. It was also interested to read about Dolley's relationship with her wayward son. However, this was a difficult book to read. While the author was very knowledgeable and had obviously done her research, she did not know how to write for a lay person. There was a little too much detail for anyone other than a professional historian and maybe even for them. (Do we really need to know how many sheets of TP James Madison used?) Also, she chose to use uncommon, multisyllabic words when a common word would have conveyed the information just fine. For example, this sentence found on page 75, “American social circumstances demanded more sangfroid than ever imagined by any European courtesy book.”

I had to stop and look up 'sangfroid' to learn it means 'coolness of mind; calmness; composure'. I may have finished the book if I hadn't has to stop and look up so many words. But I guess I can say I added to my vocabulary.

If you are a historian, you may enjoy this book. If you are a more casual reader, there are probably other Dolley Madison biographies you may want to look at instead. ( )
  Time2Read2 | Mar 31, 2013 |
I really enjoyed this biography. I've found that many biographies of women tend to spend more time talking about the woman's famous husband than the actual woman's life and contributions. Allgor does a very good job of sticking to Dolley Madison's story. I knew very little about Dolley Madison so this was an interesting read. One thing that made her story a little less enjoyable for me was that Dolley was a master of creating a public persona (she basically created the role of First Lady as we think of it today). I think it's a little hard to get past that and down to what she was "really like". Because of that I felt a bit distant from the subject, but it was a very interesting and well-written book. ( )
  japaul22 | Aug 25, 2009 |
i had recently read a few others bios from that period. This one was the worst. Every paragraph included "Things weren't done that way in those days" or "Madison became president because Dolly gave a party ..." Didn't bother to finish the book. ( )
  bluesviola | Sep 22, 2007 |
In this elegant biography, award-winning historian Allgor (Parlor Politics) makes the case that not only was Dolley Madison incredibly popular with the American people—"Everybody loves Mrs. Madison" Henry Clay once said—the wife of America's fourth president was also a "master politician." Dolley was a skilled hostess, and everyone in Washington coveted an invitation to her table. She knew the etiquette of polite society and used it to political advantage. She worked as a de facto campaign manager when her husband sought the presidency, inventing fictive kin and feigning family connections to potential allies. Even her interior decorating was politically savvy: though she favored French decor at home in Virginia, she chose American-made furniture for the White House. There's no anachronism here: Allgor doesn't turn Dolley into a proto-feminist, nor the marriage—which was respectful and deeply affectionate—into a bastion of egalitarianism. Yet when Allgor describes the Madisons as "political partner[s]," one can't help thinking of the Clintons. The erudition and charm of this biography are rivaled only by that of its subject, which makes it disappointing that the decades after Madison's presidency are dispatched in a skimpy two chapters and epilogue. ( )
  vivavoss | Oct 28, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805073272, Hardcover)

An extraordinary American comes to life in this vivid, groundbreaking portrait of the early days of the republic--and the birth of modern politics

When the roar of the Revolution had finally died down, a new generation of American politicians was summoned to the Potomac to assemble the nation's newly minted capital. Into that unsteady atmosphere, which would soon enough erupt into another conflict with Britain in 1812, Dolley Madison arrived, alongside her husband, James. Within a few years, she had mastered both the social and political intricacies of the city, and by her death in 1849 was the most celebrated person in Washington. And yet, to most Americans, she's best known for saving a portrait from the burning White House, or as the namesake for a line of ice cream.
Why did her contemporaries give so much adulation to a lady so little known today? In A Perfect Union, Catherine Allgor reveals that while Dolley's gender prevented her from openly playing politics, those very constraints of womanhood allowed her to construct an American democratic ruling style, and to achieve her husband's political goals. And the way that she did so--by emphasizing cooperation over coercion, building bridges instead of bunkers--has left us with not only an important story about our past but a model for a modern form of politics.

Introducing a major new American historian, A Perfect Union is both an illuminating portrait of an unsung founder of our democracy, and a vivid account of a little-explored time in our history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:29 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Offers a portrait of the life of a remarkable American woman, profiling the seminal role played by Dolley Madison amid the turbulent and complex political, social, and cultural world of the early nineteenth century.

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